Themes and Meanings
Harvey is an exploration of the importance of human imagination and the way twentieth century American culture looks at the irrational. Some critics, particularly British reviewers, have seen the play as an indictment of the psychiatric profession. However, the focus of the play is not really Elwood’s drinking or his hallucinations (if they are hallucinations; the staging implies that Harvey is real). Rather, the salient feature of Elwood’s character is that he is eccentric and different. Mary Chase’s inspiration for the character was neither a drunkard nor insane, so far as she knew. When Chase was a child, some boys were throwing snowballs at a poor old woman. The playwright’s mother shooed away the hooligans and told her daughter never to be unkind to a person others say is crazy, because often they have a deep wisdom. That lesson stuck with young Mary, and she turned it into a Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy.
British critic Sandy Wilson, himself a successful writer for the comic stage, lamented what he saw as the play’s glorification of dementia. It is nothing of the kind. If there is a national or ethnic element in Chase’s fantasy, it is not American but Irish, or at least Irish American. Both of her parents were born in Ireland, and while the main character’s name, “Dowd,” sounds Anglo-Saxon, the play is peppered with Irish American names: Ruth Kelly, Verne McElhinney, Dr. McClure, and Ed Hickey. Thus, at the end of...
(The entire section is 496 words.)